As you might have noticed, there is a common thread among the examples of investigative journalism’s resurgence: The election of Donald Trump. The Epstein case is no different. More than a decade after his conviction, the presumably newsworthy story of a wealthy, well-connected financier credibly accused of serially abusing underage girls as part of an international sex-trafficking operation was given new life around the same time that an angle involving the Trump presidency emerged. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta approved Epstein’s plea deal while serving as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
This is not to diminish the effort Brown and the Herald put in to bringing this story to light. It’s great journalism. More accurately, it’s great local journalism, conducted by serious reporters who don’t attend White House Correspondents’ Dinners or appear on TV every night. But the Epstein story, and other investigations into powerful creeps such as Harvey Weinstein, contains as many if not more examples of journalistic failures as it does of journalistic successes.
Some of these failures we know about. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter axed credible accusations regarding Epstein’s relationship with underage girls from a 2002 profile piece after Epstein objected. Journalist Michael Wolff tried to write a puff piece designed to “rehabilitate” Epstein’s image (bad journalism) that was ultimately scrapped due to “fact-checking” issues (better journalism). Other examples may eventually come to light.
The Harvey Weinstein saga is similarly marred by instances of journalists and media executives declining to investigate or publish credible accusations of criminal behavior. Equally perverse is the fact that Weinstein and Epstein were able to avoid scrutiny for years after their sexual deviancy was acknowledged as an “open secret” among their peers.
“This guy’s awful, and we’re heroes for reporting it. Also, everybody knew for years but we kept quiet because, you know.”